Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The School For Wives

This was the best performed play on the Moliere collection. The acting was lively and even the American accents fit the roles perfectly.

In the play, an older man returns from a long absence. He had been supporting a young lady that he had been sheltering in a nunnery. She took her out and brought her to one of his houses and was occupying it under a new name. She is naively innocent. However, through a chance encounter with a young man, she fell in love. The young man confesses this love to the older man (not knowing that he is also the overbearing governor of the lady.)

The old man plots to have the girl marry him. The young man was also in pursuit of her. However, he gives it up after learning that he has been promised to somebody else. The old man sees this as the opportunity he desired. However, it turns out that the lady to which he is promised is the same one he had fallen in love with. Everybody ends up happy - except for the old man.

Confusing, eh? Luckily, it is the characters that are important here.

This play has all the trademarked Moliere doubled-talk and double meanings. The older man is the buffoon here. Everybody is chasing their emotions. However, he is trying to manufacture the perfect girl for himself (with disastrous results.) His attempts to manipulate others end up resulting in himself being the one manipulated. He seems totally clueless as to what everyone else is saying and feeling. The girl is played with a perfect innocence. She has learned with the help of the older man what it is to be "good" and attempts to follow it - even if it ends up being different than what he intended.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The School for Husbands

School for Husbands was Moliere's first full length play. The plot deals with two men who have opposite views of women. One believes that women should be strictly controlled and refrain from excess social activity or flashy dress. The other believes that women should do whatever they want. They each have girls to which they are engaged and want to point out that there way is right. The "controller" thinks that his girl his the perfect angel. However, she is just humoring him in an attempt to get with her true love. We get some hilarious double meanings where she launches into a soliloquy with both her betrothed and lover present. Everyone (except the fiance) knows exactly who she is talking about. Eventually, she tricks him into "forcing" her to marry her lover. Freedom wins over forced obedience.

The language in the Richard Wilbur translation is masterful, and helps to convey the humor and double meanings of the play. The humor also beings up the debate of appropriate freedoms. Too much freedom without concequences can lead to a persons downful. However, preventing people from making choices can often lead to people making a rebelling and going even further away from what is desired.

Monday, January 27, 2014


Tartuffe was one of Moliere most popular - and most banned - works. It centers around a pious charlatan, Tartuffe. He has ingratiated himself with a well-to-do family. They have taken him in after seeing his difficult circumstances. They grant him all of his material needs and respect his opinions. However, the younger generation does not share this respect. This is especially bad after the father promises his daughter to Tartuffe (even though she is already planning on marrying somebody else.) They eventually plot to uncover Tartuffe in making advances to the woman of the house. The plot works and they throw Tartuffe out. However, Tartuffe gets the last laugh as the family has given him a strongbox and signed away the house to him. (This was in part to escape a possible difficult situation.) Tartuffe attempts to evict the family. Luckily, some officials are aware of Tartuffe's activities and arrest him, thereby rescuing the family.

Like many other Moliere comedies, this deals with the comedy of different people communicating on different levels. There is also a wedding and the shenanigans that almost result in the breakup of the wedding. Luckily, everything works out in the end.

Philosophy of Science

Professor Kasser's course on the Philosophy of Science is masterfully presented. I found myself, however, wading in and out of the content. The topic is of key importance, yet is not given much respect. After all, science is its objective self. Why does it need some liberal art like philosophy. However, like life itself, we need the philosophy to truly understand the role it plays.

Science has become the "dogma" of intellectual inquiry of the day, almost on par with religion. However, it spends very little effort studying itself. The philosophical bounds of science are surprisingly week. Differentiation between science and pseudo-science often comes down to an "I know it when I see it" argument. (He gives many examples of arguments that fail to exclude astrology from the realm of pseudo-science.) Even objectivity itself can be very subjective. The concept of "statistically significant" dictates much of what is deemed reliable in science. Yet it was created by simply choosing an arbitrary threshold.

Some of the discussions of the key players in the philosophy of science movement get a little tiring. Positivists, Popper, realism, and many others are covered. On an abstract level, these don't get you very far. However, they shine when examples of their implementation are used. The final lectures in this series deal with fundamental questions and applications in specific sciences.

Biology has species. But what are species and how are they differentiated? It is a surprisingly difficult question to answer. Different subfields of biology have different needs for classifications and different ways of doing it. This can have impacts outside the lab, with laws such as endangered species acts. How do we resolve this? (Should there be a separate philosophy of taxonomy? Or perhaps this is just an extension of the philosophy of language.)

Philosophy of Science is not the easiest of topics to grasp, and these lectures do a good job making it accessible. It attempts to bridge a gap between the scientists (who don't really care about philosophy) and the philosophers (who don't really know the details about science.) Some of the questions that really concern the philosophers don't concern the scientists. However, some of the questions on the philosophy of science have deep impacts on the ways that science is funded and practiced. It would benefit scientists to understand more of the philosophy and history to be able to understand why they are doing things the way they are doing them (and if it meshes with their personal philosophy.) Perhaps one day, we will have a better discipline of "meta-science" that can legitimately give an outsider's evaluation of science. Until then, we'll keep muddling through.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Top 100 movies

Finding my top 100 movies turned out to be more of a challenge than I thought. I thought I'd just go into IMDB, sort by rating and voila. Alas, I didn't have 100 in 10's and had too many with 9's added.

So off to the culling. Deleting shorts and non-movies was the easy part. Then deleting some that were in the "I liked this?" category were next. Then it got hard. I could go the easy way and delete low-rated (by others) movies. However, they had their charm. I wanted to keep in the more obscure ones also. Finally I ended up finding a few to remove to get the final list:

Title Directors Year
The Birth of a Nation D.W. Griffith 1915
Metropolis Fritz Lang 1927
The Blue Angel Josef von Sternberg 1930
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931) Rouben Mamoulian 1931
Speak Easily Edward Sedgwick 1932
Citizen Kane Orson Welles 1941
Bicycle Thieves Vittorio De Sica 1948
Rear Window Alfred Hitchcock 1954
No Time for Sergeants Mervyn LeRoy 1958
Ben-Hur William Wyler 1959
The Absent-Minded Professor Robert Stevenson 1961
The Music Man Morton DaCosta 1962
Lolita (1962, Kubrick) Stanley Kubrick 1962
L'Eclisse Michelangelo Antonioni 1962
Charade Stanley Donen 1963
Dr. Strangelove: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb Stanley Kubrick 1964
2001: A Space Odyssey Stanley Kubrick 1968
Monty Python and the Holy Grail Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones 1975
Star Wars George Lucas 1977
Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back Irvin Kershner 1980
The Gods Must Be Crazy Jamie Uys 1980
Super Fuzz Sergio Corbucci 1980
Chariots of Fire Hugh Hudson 1981
Gandhi Richard Attenborough 1982
WarGames John Badham 1983
Back to the Future Robert Zemeckis 1985
Jean de Florette Claude Berri 1986
Ferris Bueller's Day Off John Hughes 1986
True Stories David Byrne 1986
Au Revoir Les Enfants Louis Malle 1987
Roxanne Fred Schepisi 1987
The Princess Bride Rob Reiner 1987
Who Framed Roger Rabbit Robert Zemeckis 1988
Cinema Paradiso Giuseppe Tornatore 1988
Tucker: The Man and His Dream Francis Ford Coppola 1988
Dead Poets Society Peter Weir 1989
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade Steven Spielberg 1989
Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure Stephen Herek 1989
Cyrano de Bergerac Jean-Paul Rappeneau 1990
Edward Scissorhands Tim Burton 1990
Father of the Bride Charles Shyer 1991
Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey Pete Hewitt 1991
Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves Kevin Reynolds 1991
Sneakers Phil Alden Robinson 1992
The Fugitive Andrew Davis 1993
Last Action Hero John McTiernan 1993
Jurassic Park Steven Spielberg 1993
Miracle on 34th Street Les Mayfield 1994
Angels in the Outfield William Dear 1994
The Lion King Roger Allers, Rob Minkoff 1994
Mr. Holland's Opus Stephen Herek 1995
Sabrina (1995) Sydney Pollack 1995
A Little Princess Alfonso Cuarón 1995
Clueless Amy Heckerling 1995
Sense and Sensibility Ang Lee 1995
Now and Then Lesli Linka Glatter 1995
Babe Chris Noonan 1995
DragonHeart Rob L. Cohen 1996
Emma Douglas McGrath 1996
Romeo + Juliet (1996) Baz Luhrmann 1996
Matilda Danny DeVito 1996
Evita Alan Parker 1996
Independence Day Roland Emmerich 1996
Space Jam Joe Pytka 1996
Shall We Dance? Masayuki Suo 1996
Harriet the Spy Bronwen Hughes 1996
Liar Liar Tom Shadyac 1997
Life Is Beautiful Roberto Benigni 1997
The Saint Phillip Noyce 1997
Men in Black Barry Sonnenfeld 1997
Saint Bavo Defurne 1997
Children of Heaven Majid Majidi 1997
The Truman Show Peter Weir 1998
Rhapsody of Spring Wenji Teng 1998
Remember the Titans Boaz Yakin 2000
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone Chris Columbus 2001
Secret Ballot Babak Payami 2001
The Majestic Frank Darabont 2001
Ocean's Eleven Steven Soderbergh 2001
A Beautiful Mind Ron Howard 2001
Spy Kids 2: Island of Lost Dreams Robert Rodriguez 2002
Together Kaige Chen 2002
Badhaai Ho Badhaai Satish Kaushik 2002
Koi... Mil Gaya Rakesh Roshan 2003
Bride & Prejudice Gurinder Chadha 2004
Electric Shadows Jiang Xiao 2004
The Incredibles Brad Bird 2004
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban Alfonso Cuarón 2004
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Tim Burton 2005
Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith George Lucas 2005
Cars John Lasseter, Joe Ranft 2006
Humko Tumse Pyaar Hai Bunty Soorma 2006
Secret Jay Chou 2007
The Equation of Love and Death Baoping Cao 2008
I Give My First Love to You Takehiko Shinjo 2009
Up Pete Docter, Bob Peterson 2009
Inception Christopher Nolan 2010
A Yell from Heaven Makoto Kumazawa 2011
Moneyball Bennett Miller 2011
The Amazing Spider-Man Marc Webb 2012

Friday, January 24, 2014

Facebook, Zillow and Trulia

I was on my phone learning some facts on Memrise, when all of a sudden I get a message that I need to login. I was annoyed, because it looked like facebook had expired its login. But, I couldn't remember the local password I had set up, so I went to use the facebook login. Facebook, alas, decided that I was logging on from some new location. (Ummm, this is the same location I was using 5 minutes before...) In its security minded approach, it asked me to validate some things. It gave three options:

1) Answer "Secret questions"
2) Get text on phone
3) Identify people in photos.

I have know idea what phone I used with facebook, but since it has been a while, I am guessing it is and old one that I don't have anymore. "Secret questions" are always problematic, especially if it has been a while. What was my favorite movie back then? It depends on when "then" was.

I opted for "identify people in photos."

This had its own set of problems. I primarily use facebook as a convenient way to sign in to various apps. If I need a login, and there is not anything super valuable there, facebook is a convenient option. Fewer passwords to remember. As for accessing facebook, well, I think I posted something myself a few years ago. About the only activity I get is produced by various acts. (Hence my sister asking why I was listening to Katy Perry on Spotify.)

I'll also occasionally go in there and respond to friend requests and add a few suggested friends. This turned out to be my downfall.

It is easy to identify pictures of my family or current friends. But, facebook doesn't stick with those. It gives me a wonderful picture of somebody that I haven't seen since elementary school. Uh, perhaps process of elimination will help. Even worse, it will show the extended family of somebody that I haven't seen in years. I guess this is their encouragement to be actively involved in facebook. My first try, I failed out the identification. On the second try, the final picture was of my mom. Whew! Made it.

It would be a little helpful if they would actually show photos of the person. When they ask me to identify an adult friend, and I get a picture of a six year old, I know something is up. It would also be useful if they would tell me why they think there is a login from a new place. I did go to their logs, and didn't see anything that looked unusually. There was me on the work network. And there was my phone and computer on the home network. Why was there an issue?

I've also run into another annoyance with Real Estate sites. I was interested in seeing house values for some condos. Sites like Zillow are very good at showing values of single family homes. You can zoom into a neighborhood and see numbers next to each of the houses. Alas, for condos, it gets confused. Really confused.

It shows some jumbled text at the building. Ok. I can deal with that. However, the details, can be even more bizarre. It shows some of the units in the building. But not others. I see a couple apartment 2s. Only, one has one address and once has a different one. Eventually I got a listing that seemed to have everything - maybe. This was a condo complex that had about 6 different addresses, with 3 units per address. I finally found one address that where I could get all the units. The only problem was that they were labeled as "apt 1. apt 1. #1. Apt 2" etc. Eventually digging down could get some sales prices.

Trulia could be even more bizarre. I would do a couple search for the address and get one result from Trulia. Then I'd try typing that into their search engine and get nothing. Huh? Oh well. All they need is a simple feature: "show nearby units." Alas, it is next to impossible to get it.

Also, it was interesting to see the different estimates. I saw estimates ranging from 130k to 210k for the units, depending on the site. After looking, it appeared that there was an attempt to sell one unit for about 210k a year ago, but the sale never went through. There was also an attempted short sell for about 130k recently. I guess that explains the wide range. The actual value is likely somewhere in between.

There are so many "junk" sites out there. It is hard to filter through all the "Spam" sites that google returns to get to ones that actually have relevant real estate data. Another curse of the ease of access to big data. If only these companies that make junk sites would spend their efforts making quality data rather than just trying to show up high on the search engine rankings.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Misanthrope

People decide to break with custom and start telling people exactly how they feel. This leads to all sorts of conflict in society. It reminds me of the movie Liar Liar. The English translation is quite good, and the LA Theatre Works performance is well done. I listened to it a few times and got a little more each time. This is supposedly one of Moliere's best works. However, I think I liked his shorter plays better.

Sganarelle, or The Imaginary Cuckold

The Imaginary Cuckold is a short Moliere comedy. An event occurs. Somebody sees it out of context and interpret it as something different and then overreact. This causes others to overreact, and soon everything spins out of control. In the end, everybody comes back to their senses and the girl marries the boy of her dreams.

It is simple, short and funny and very accessible.

The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus From the Quarto of 1604

I listened to the Librivox version of Dr. Faustus, which was a quality full-cast performance (complete with singing chants.) Like Goethe's Faust, this tells the story of a man who sell's his soul to the devil for a few years of pleasure. While Goethe's is dark and psychological, Marlowe's feels lighter. Faustus initially has some conflict about selling his soul to the devil. However, he decides to go with it. After other chances of backing out and repenting, he finds the desire to continue on.

He then embarks on frat-boy escapades. He pulls jokes, makes antlers pop out of royalty, and pretty much wastes his time in doing silly stuff. As the years come to an end, he finally decides he wants to show off Helen of Troy. He finally realizes it is to late to repent, and off he goes.

Faustus got bored with his gifts and decided to call on others to explore some "dark arts". Instead of allowing him to achieve greatness, it merely served to help him joke around. This must be what makes it so tragical.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling

The title accurately describes the centerpiece of this history. It makes diversions into the papal politics of the day and his "rivalry" with Raphael. Michelangelo was originally working on a tomb for the pope. However, the Sistine chapel ended up coming out to take priority. The pope was a strong figure who always seemed to get his way. Michelangelo, however, was portrayed as also being strongly opinionated, and unwilling to compromise.

A little is given on Michelangelo's family and personal life. He was shown to have some trouble at home. However, nothing was extreme. As for personal life, he is seen as being fairly conservative religiously, and somewhat aloof from personal relationships. (This is in contrast to Raphael who is shown as a socialite with many amorous relationships.)

The pope Julius that he worked under was shown as a megalomaniac, who saw biblical prophecies dedicated to him. He felt dedicated to reclaim papal lands. He did not create many friends.

Michelangelo had some artistic friends and trainers. However, he tended to be more of an introvert.

The painting of the chapel was hard work, but done with many assistants. Michelangelo's commission to do it was ironically initially given as an action to make him fail. However, Michelangelo succeeded greatly on the fresco. Other artists (including Raphael) have later adapted many of the styles shown in the Michelangelo's work.

The work is a fairly dispassionate story of Michelangelo's work, bringing out the political and artistic context in which he was working.

Pilgrim's Progress

I started listening to the professionally narrated version by Nadia May, but I found the librivox version was better. Alas, I had trouble getting involved in the story. Often I'll start a work and not really understand the first part until I get into the book. Part way through, I start to get involved with the characters and the plot and all starts to get tired together. Then, I can go back to the start and it all starts to flow together.

Alas, with Pilgrim's progress it never seemed to flow. The many episodes made sense on their own, but I could not seem to tie them together in a common story. It ended up sitting for me like a number of isolated aphorisms.

The characters where their character on the outside. Everybody has a name that describes them, from worldly wiseman to Christian. In the first part Christian attempts to achieve salvation on his own. Later, in the second part, his wife and children attempt it on their own. There are plenty of obvious Christian references on the quest for salvation. The stories encompass many bits of protestant doctrine from Bunyan, thus making it a great source for quotes, even if it is not a very coherent story.

Monday, January 13, 2014


Warbreaker is a well-written, entertaining fantasy novel. It deals with the conflict between two entities, Hallandra, the current ruler of the kingdom, and Idria, an "exile" province, home of the kingdom's former rulers.

It follows the threads of four main characters that gradually become intertwined. Vivenna is the oldest daughter of the king of Idrian. She had been brought up to be the bride of the god-king of Hallandra. However, at the last minute, her father decided to send her younger sister instead. Vivenna then decides to venture into the city to "rescue" her sister. She meets up with some mercenaries who she thinks are her friends. She escapes, and has to live on the streets before meeting up with Vasher.

Siri is the happy-go-lucky youngest daughter of the Idrian king. She lived her life pretty much ignored by everyone else. She did not pay much attention to her studies, and nobody seemed to mind. She, however, was chosen to become the bride of the god king Susebron. She initially tries to behave "as she should." and is intimidated by the king. However, she finally decides to act more herself, and falls in love with the king.

Lightsong is one of the playboy gods of Hallandra. In Hallandra, the gods are "returned". They are people that come back to life after dying doing something noble. However, in coming back, they lose all memory of their previous life. (Though they maintain all innate skills and talents.) They live as pampered royalty for as long as they desire. As returned, they have the power to heal one person of any infirmity. After this, they die, to be eventually be replaced by another returned. Lightsong, however, doesn't really believe this religion (in spite of being a returned.) He is constantly self-depracating and is trying to find out what he was in a previous life. He gets along well with others, including Siri.

Vasher is shown as a mysterious man. We are not sure whether he is good or evil. However, he is greatly feared by many (including Vivenna's mercenaries.) He has a "living" sword that helps him fight battles.

There are constant twists as characters try to figure out what is going on and who the "enemy" really is. Perceived "friends" turn out to be enemies. While we might initially subscribe malicious ulterior motives to certain characters. It turns, out, they truly do have everyone's best interest in mind. They just go about it in a different way than would be expected. The difficulty in discerning good from evil is further brought about with the animate sword, "Nightblood". It is instructed to "destroy evil". What is evil? Will it destroy things that are in fact, good?

The characters also grow to learn the difference between appearance and character. The differences in cultural norms and values cause characters to jump to immediate judgement about others. However, after time, they learn that these cultural differences are not nearly as important as the internal beliefs.

The book has a "different" magic system that works well with the plot. The princesses have the power to rapidly grow their hair. The hair also changes color based on their emotions. People are all born with one "breath". They can willingly give the breath to somebody else. With breaths, people can gain special powers (as well as be seen as nobility.) Some powers include sensing others as well as animating non-living objects. (The closer the object is in shape or makeup to a man, the easier it is to animate.) The gods are fed a breath each week to help keep them alive. The poor often sell their breaths in order to survive. Somebody can give their breaths to others, but it is an "all or none" action.

Sanderson wrote Warbreaker in a "public" manner, and has the has the full text available online, as well annotations of all the chapters.

I don't care much for Robert Jordan and Tolkein, but I love Sanderson's fantasy. He has a style that is much less pompous than other fantasy writers. His characters are "real people", even if they do have silly names. The world is brought about through plot-advancing action and character development, rather than simple exposition. He is just a good writer.

One Click: Jeff Bezos and the Rise of

One Click is a "pop biography" of Bezos. It provides a concise biography of Bezos and a history of his company. While it does provide some childhood background on Bezos, it seems to be rather shallow in his portrayal as a person. We get a lot of "facts" of a guy who was a bright programmer who decided to start his own company. He made lists, analyzed and calculated what would be the best field to go in, and where would be the best place to locate the company. This makes Amazon the alternative to many other Silicon Valley start ups that seem to start with the engineering first. Amazon seems to be a business foremost, with some good technology behind it. The "appearance" is important. (It wants an ethos of "cheap" even if it is spending more money to do so.)

The book provides a quick, easy to read introduction to the company and the founder. There are some views of people that feel they have been "used" by Amazon, but little hard-hitting commentary on the company or its influences. There are also few details on its growth. The major new fields and growth are covered, but the reason or background are missing.

Jungle Book

The BBC produced a radio-play of some of the best stories in Kipling's Jungle Book. It was also distributed free in Britain (and is available at, with a claim that it is in the public domain.)

It tells some of the stories of a boy that was adopted by wolves and lives his life in the jungle. He does not fall victim to the trappings of wealth as do most other men. There are also other moral teachings in the book. (Modern Cub Scouts adopt some of the characters are teachings of the Jungle Book.)

The production is well done, and provides another adaption of popular stories.


Energized is a Russia-American spy thriller set in a near-future science fiction universe. The Arab's have nuke their oil fields wrecking havoc on energy supplies. The world is trying rapidly to produce alternative energy sources, however, it is slow moving. Russia with its oil supplies has emerged the big winner. Meanwhile a space object slipped out of its orbit and started coming towards earth. Through some manipulation this was made to be a second moon. It provided an ideal base for harvesting the sun's energy and beaming it back to earth. This could be a solution to the energy needs of the planet. However, there are environmental concerns. These come to a head when some "terrorists" manage to gain control and start beaming down energy on alternate power sources to destroy them. Our protaganist just happened to be on a mission there at the time and is able to help defeat the bad guys with the help of his new girlfriend and the guy who secretly sent the moon there in the first place. The restore everything, make the world safe and make sure the Russian bad guy is zapped by his own medicine. Now more energy will be available and people will be free to continue their conspicuous consumption. (As an aside, it is mentioned that if we just reduced some of the excess consumption, none of this would be needed.)

It is a fairly conventional thriller plot wrapped in a cautionary tale of the environment. It comes down squarely on the side of rapid new technology as the solution for energy problems. However, it does caution against over-dependence on a single source of power - especially when it is controlled by less-than-desirable entities.

Odyssey of the West V: Enlightenment, Revolution, and Renewal

A number of different lecturers provide lectures in Odyssey of the West V.
These lectures oscillate between coverage of key people and discussions of events and movements. We get conversations on Hume and Adam Smith. And then we get the French revolution and the terror.
There are a few different lecturers participating, some better than others. My favorite is Timothy Shutt. He is always careful to discuss the "consensus" scholarly opinion, while also providing his particular view. This is especially useful when he discusses "best" novel of a certain era or genre. He almost gets me to want to read Jane Austen.

Monday, January 06, 2014


Nudge describes the concept of "libertarian paternalism". This is used to make the "default" choice the best choice and remove costs to change. The rational chooser would not see any changes in his behavior. They would still be able to analyze the situation and choose their appropriate choice. However, the "common man" would likely stick with the default action and inertia would keep that one in place. By making the default option the "best" option, the people would get the best they like.

The best example given was 401ks. They suggest a default option will be for people to enroll with a quality low-cost high-quality fund. Most people would stick with the default, while those that pay careful attention could get any other option they desire. (Too much choice can also be a negative, as illustrated by the 100s of funds available in the Swedish social security privatization.)

The book also took a break to discuss marriage. Their proposal would be for the state to get out of the marriage business altogether. The state would regulate contracts that would encompass the legal rights associated with couples. Private parties (such as churches) would handle actual "marriages". Thus churches and other institutions could still have marriage exactly as they desire, while other non-traditional relationships could still obtain legal rights they desire with the exact same legal recognition and terminology applicable to traditional couples. (It is a nice idea, but it doesn't really seem to fit with the Nudge concept.)

The biggest fault with "nudges" is the authors' focus on the altruistic use of nudges. The same concept is commonly used in a negative manner to "encourage" people to take a costly option. Out of habit, people assume the default options are the best when installing software. Some products use this to give users the option to install advertising toolbars or mail a notification to everybody in their address book. Sure, they had the trivial option of opting out. However, many would still stick with the default.

If you are going to encourage people to do something "for their own good", nudges seem like a nice way of doing it. The authors' make a compelling argument. However, the concept seems to have a rather limited number of practical applications.

Faust Part 1

References to "Faustian" bargains abound in popular culture. But who was Faust? Both Goethe and Marlowe have created plays that tell their versions of the story.

The Faust story is akin to the story of Job in reverse. Faust makes an agreement with the devil and gets to enjoy the good life for a while. At the end, the debt becomes due and he becomes the devil's property.

I listened to the librivox recording which suffers from inconsistent sound quality, making some of the voices difficult to hear and understand. Add in the fact that Faust is notoriously difficult to translate and it got even harder to follow.

In spite of the difficulty, you can still tell why it is such an acclaimed work. The story itself has been told many times, from Marlowe to Brendan Frasier (in Bedazzaled). Goethe's seems to probe deeper into the psychology. I only wish I understood German better.

Saturday, January 04, 2014

The Illustrated Man

A man has tattoos covering his entire body. However, nobody wants to see them because they tell realistic three dimensional stories of not-so-flattering events. We get stories of people with too much technology, including a thought-enacting nursery that becomes their downfall.

Another story talks about a colony of southern blacks on Mars. A white man flies up their 20 years later and asks for their health. In that time, nearly the entire world has been destroyed. The few remaining survivors would like to come to Mars and become the servants of the current residents.
The remainder of the stories explore various aspects of human behavior in the context of a technologically advanced near future. By using space and aliens, the stories can explore some extremities in behavior that would not be possible with extreme realism. In one story, a poor family longs to travel to Mars. They have saved enough for only one person. After drawing straws, they realized that there would be downsides to sending only one person. They decide that nobody should go. Later the father is offered a rocket model for junk parts. He puts an "engine" in and fixes it up for a trip to Mars. He takes all the children on a "trip to Mars". They all have a great experience and think they really went to space, even though they never left home. They had a great family experience that was far better than what would have been experienced if just one person had made a real trip to Mars.

Another story talks about a martian invasion of earth. The martians land in southern California to a big celebration. Rather than fighting the invaders, the earthlings shower them with gifts. The Martians end up losing their will to fight in the process.

Bradbury also continues with one of his bet themes of the importance of books and literature. One story has dead authors in a powwow where they "disappear" as soon as the last copy of their banned works are removed. (Fahrenheit 451 later takes this further.)

The framing story of the "Illustrated Man" really only appears at the beginning and end of the collection and serves as a connecting point for these stories that explore the futuristic concerns of a post-World War II world.